DANANG, Vietnam (AP) — Hours after leaving Beijing, President Donald Trump on Friday delivered what appeared to be a sharp rebuke to China, railing against trade practices he says have put Americans out of work and warning that the U.S. would no longer “turn a blind eye” to trade abuses.
“From this day forward we will compete on a fair and equal basis,” Trump told a gathering of CEOs on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first.”
It was a striking change of tone from the day before, when Trump had set aside his previous blistering rhetoric in favor of friendly overtures to China as he sought to establish a more balanced trade relationship.
But on Friday, Trump was back to blunt. He told the executives gathered in the coastal city of Danang that he was happy to enter into bilateral trading agreements — but only if they are reciprocal and fair.
Without singling out China by name, Trump argued the U.S. had adhered to World Trade Organization principles, only to be taken advantage of by counties that had ignored the rules and engaged in harmful practices such as product dumping, currency manipulation and government subsidizing of goods.
“Such practices, along with our collective failure to respond to them, hurt many people in our country,” Trump said, describing “jobs, factories and industries” he said were “stripped out of the United States and out of many countries” as a result.
“We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses and we will not tolerate them,” he said.
One of the cornerstones of Trump’s approach to trade has been his opposition to multi-lateral trade agreements. That includes the far-reaching Pacific Rim trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of as one of his first acts as president. The TPP was meant to be the foundation for forging a free-trade zone akin to the EU in the Asia-Pacific.
Leaders of the 11 remaining TPP members, representing roughly 13.5 percent of the global economy, were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the APEC summit to seek an agreement in principle that would not require U.S. involvement. But the prospects of that deal appeared in doubt Friday, as a meeting of the leaders of 11 countries still involved in the pact was delayed. There was no word on whether they had given up reaching agreement in Danang or were still working toward an agreement on how to move forward without U.S. involvement.
Meanwhile, a 16-member region-wide pact called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is also under negotiation. It encompasses China and India but also does not include the U.S.
In the speech, Trump said he had spoken “openly and directly” with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit about “about China’s unfair trade practices and the enormous trade deficits they have produced with the United States.”
Trump said China’s trade surplus, which stood at $223 billion for the first 10 months of the year, was unacceptable, and repeated his language from Thursday when he said he did “not blame China” or any other country “for taking advantage of the United States on trade.”
But Trump went on to say that the U.S. would “no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating or economic aggression.”
“We will no longer tolerate the audacious theft of intellectual property. We will confront the destructive practices of forcing businesses to surrender their technology to the state and forcing them into joint ventures in exchange for market access. We will address the massive subsidizing of industries through colossal state-owned enterprises that put private competitors out of business, all the time,” he said.
All are allegations the U.S. has lodged against China.
Xi followed Trump to the microphone but did not directly to Trump’s claims of trade unfairness toward the U.S.
Trump also continued to talk tough against North Korea and its development of nuclear and ballistic missiles weapons, as he has throughout the trip.
“The future of this region and its beautiful people must not be held hostage to a dictator’s twisted fantasies of violent conquest and nuclear blackmail,” he said.
Trump referenced his address earlier this week in South Korea when he called on countries to unite against North Korea. He said “every single step the North Korea regime takes toward more weapons is a step it takes into greater and greater danger.”
APEC is the first of several summits Trump is scheduled to attend on his first official visit to Asia. It will be a change in pace the president, who has spent much of the week basking in elaborate welcome ceremonies and banquets, and meeting with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and China.
His schedule for Friday includes an official welcome event for world lead leaders attending the summit and their spouses, along with a gala dinner and cultural performance, before formal talks begin on Saturday.
Shortly before Trump landed, the White House announced that he will not have a formal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, addressing reporters aboard Air Force One, blamed scheduling conflicts on both sides, but said it was possible the leaders could have a less formal encounter in Danang or at a later regional conference in the Philippines.
Asked if Putin and Trump will have a face-to-face meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian news wires, that “there have been contradictory signals and we don’t have full understanding yet.” But he added: “Both presidents are in town, and their paths will cross one way or another.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had told reporters in Beijing on Thursday that there was no reason to schedule a meeting if the U.S. and Russia are unable to make significant progress on issues including Syria and Ukraine.
Both sides have been working to reach agreement on how they hope to resolve Syria’s civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated. The potential understanding comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of IS, the extremist group that once controlled vast stretches of both Iraq and Syria.